It’s an unlikely spot for a state of the art coworking space.
Nestled in amongst a dozen auto shops, a large pharmaceutical company, and film studios, you’ll find WorkCo, a brand new coworking space — and the latest addition to the south Etobicoke, Ontario neighborhood.
Created out of a retrofitted warehouse, the new 11,000 sq. foot coworking space is helping to usher in a cluster of indie businesses in the newly minted Assembly District. The site boasts a wellness space, contemporary lounges, and a cafe bar. There’s greenery throughout, thick-slab wood tables, ample natural light, and space for approximately 100 members.
Just three months since the space’s soft launch, WorkCo is already 35-40% rented, and is helping to meet the needs of an underserved, entrepreneurial market.
Meeting the Needs of a Growing Entrepreneurial Community
“Before WorkCo, many entrepreneurs, small businesses, and start-ups in this area were working in coercive environments,” explained Daniel Odorico, the founder of Downing Street Group, the real estate development firm behind WorkCo.
“Entrepreneurs were sitting by themselves in uninviting business centres, lacking opportunities for connection or inspiration,” he said. “And many start-up companies had it even worse. They were forced to rent out a private office that, in this market, costs about $70,000 per year. All that for the bare minimum — a few private offices, a washroom, and a lobby area,” he explained.
Odorico knew they deserved better.
Partnering for Community Impact
In 2018, the Downing Street Group team developed the plans for WorkCo, as one part of a larger, multi-part workspace development project in the south Etobicoke neighborhood.
In getting the project off the ground, they turned to Vancity Community Investment Bank.
“This is a unique venture and we knew we needed a partner who really understood real estate and who could provide us with affordable financing,” Odorico explained.
The VCIB team worked with Downing Street Group to identify an affordable mortgage that provided flexibility.
“What VCIB did for us, in terms of the structuring and costing, was tremendous. It took us a long way towards our goals — especially from a financial standpoint,” he said.
“There was also a significant community benefit in having VCIB as our financial partner,” Odorico explained. “The Vancity brand is known for social impact. When we’d tell our stakeholders that VCIB was part of the project — it acted as a great stamp of approval about the kind of social impact that we’re having. That was a huge benefit for us and really exciting.”
Designing with the Environment in Mind
Downing Street Group broke ground on the project in April 2019 and opened 6 months later.
In renovating the site, they were cautious to conserve as much of the old building as possible.
“Prior to WorkCo, this was an old mechanic shop. The site was contaminated and needed to be remediated,” Odorico explained. “Most developers would have knocked the building down and filled up a landfill site with discarded construction materials. But for us, environmental stewardship is incredibly important. And as a result, there wasn’t an element of that building that we didn’t try and retain.”
That stewardship has had benefits for both the natural world and for the space’s new tenants. WorkCo now features white-painted exposed pipes, “industrial chic” concrete walls, vaulted ceilings, and large, black-trimmed windows throughout.
This environment has proven appealing for the neighborhood’s entrepreneurs. Since launch, WorkCo has become a community hub for a wide variety of start-up businesses, including firms operating in green tech, artificial intelligence, media production, software — and even the trades. WorkCo is the proud home for the sales team of a local painting company.
Driving Economic Growth in Etobicoke
This diverse mix of firms is giving life to new entrepreneurial opportunities
“Amongst members, conversations at the cafe or at the open tables have already led to business opportunities,” Odorico explained. “People are saying to one another, “have you ever thought of this? Have you ever thought of that? Have you considered incorporating green energy into that project?” It’s leading to new growth and possibility.”
In launching this venture, the Downing Street team are helping to meet the needs of an emerging cluster of entrepreneurs and innovators, through offering work conditions that foster connection, collaboration and opportunity.
“The former use of the building was an old mechanic shop that employed four people”, Odorico said. “When we’re fully up and running, there will be 120 people buzzing in and out of that space. We’re really excited about that.”
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